Nepali Times
State Of The State
Which way now?


So far this week: the US ambassador goes on a fact-finding mission to mid-western Nepal in a US aircraft, King Gyanendra issues a set of directives to his appointed government, the estranged Rana-Thapa factions of RPP patch up their differences, and the Nepali Congress' Girija Prasad Koirala surprises even his supporters by calling for a party reunion.

At first glance, these headline-hogging events look like they happened independent of each other. But on closer scrutiny, there seems to be thread running through them.

The government has admitted that there are about 50 US defence personnel in Nepal. Other sources claim it may be as high as 500 at any given time. Whatever the exact figure, and whether they are in uniform or not, there is little doubt about their real mission: to contain the insurgency.

Maoist leader Prachanda recently said, "The Royal Army has so far survived due to the economic, political and technical support of the Americans. That is why our party has been calling it Royal-American Army." No surprise, then, that the visits of American diplomats and brass to our domestic hotspots in their own aircraft has raised eyebrows and convinced many that the Americans are more deeply engaged with the Royal Nepali Army than either of them dare, or care, to admit.

The king has enough reasons to be smug. With the world's hyperpower supporting him, the political parties on the streets shouldn't be much of a worry. His 10-point directive for the development of the mid-western region could be precursors to more such missives from Narayanhiti Palace in future. More felicitations are planned in Gorkha and Pokhara.

But something has spooked Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, otherwise he would have no reason to suddenly mend fences with party president Pashupati Shumsher and reshuffle the cabinet. Does he hear bells tolling? The king is unlikely to carry an albatross of royal loyals from the RPP for much longer. A cabinet of ambitious independents would implement his instructions much more faithfully.

If and when elections are announced, they could be conducted by the cabinet of rootless politicos like Kirtinidhi Bista or other party renegades. The RPP will be asked to show its strength at the elections to reclaim the mantle of a proper royalist party. This is the fear that has prompted Thapa's cabinet colleagues into packing the government with people they personally trust. Thapa's attempt to appoint handpicked officers into each ministry to look after the welfare of the RPP cadre was also motivated by a similar apprehension. The move was checkmated by mainstream political parties without the Narayanhiti strategists coming into the fray.

For his part, Koirala has been in politics too long not to realise the true significance of these seemingly unrelated developments. Students affiliated to Nepali Congress and its splinter faction were badly mauled by the front organisations of UML, and it provided him a convenient excuse to sell his message to the masses. By referring to the message from ex-Indian Prime Minister Chandra Sekhar, Koirala had already won over the line-up of permanent dissenters within his party. The invitation from Biratnagar was just a formality.

The more King Gyanendra asserts his power, the higher the need of a unified democratic force to keep him on his toes. Narayanhiti Palace is more aware of the risks of unification of the Nepali Congress than its leaders are about the opportunities offered by such a possibility. The palace's political conspirators will do everything to keep Koirala and Deuba hangers-on squabbling.

the emergence of a political force powerful enough to challenge an activist king will depend on the strength of the public opinion in favour of democracy. Ultimately the people will have to show how much they value their rights.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)